BUCKHANNON — The Upshur County Firefighters Association (UCFA) held its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27 at the Buckhannon Public Safety Complex.
The meeting was led by UCFA President John Roby. Vice President of UCFA Joe Carrico was also present. The meeting consisted of basic functions and updates, including approval of the minutes from the last meeting. However, the main topics addressed this meeting included concern over the issue that an Upshur County Commissioner questioned the legality of the UCFA and the overall lack of volunteerism in fire and other emergency services.
“There is an article being passed around that was sent from MyBuckhannon saying that this organization is not even legal,” Roby said. “Joe and I have checked into it and it has been here for over 30 years. I also filed updated bylaws at the courthouse today. The only issue we may have is Chief J.B Kimble serving on the association because he is paid by a municipality.”
There was some disagreement among those present over the difference of a paid firefighter and volunteers to which Roby commented, “Buckhannon Fire Department is a paid and volunteer combination fire department. I’ll let Joe explain it a little bit more.” Carrico then quoted state code, “Upon the creation of a fire association any full-time paid fire department located in a municipality as defined in section 8-15-9 of this code is excluded from the provisions of this article. So, what I understand it to mean is that any paid member of the fire department cannot be a member of the association but I don’t think it prohibits any volunteer from being a member.”
Roby interjected, “My argument on that is that Kimble still comes out after hours as a volunteer. He is a part of that roster also.”
Furthermore, it was reported that state code reveals that in order to have an Upshur County Fire Board (UCFB), it was required to have the development of the Upshur County Fire Association. West Virginia State Legislature says the following in reference to West Virginia fire associations and fire boards. West Virginia state code 7-17-3. County fire association creation; prohibiting entrance by a municipality maintaining a full-time paid fire department.
The fire departments within each county are hereby authorized to create and establish a county fire association, hereinafter referred to as “fire association.” The county fire association is created to discuss fire protection services to address fire protection problems at the county level. Upon the creation of a fire association, any full-time paid fire department located in a municipality, as defined in 8-15-9 of this code is excluded from the provisions of this article.
However, this provision shall not prohibit the county commission or the fire board with the approval of the county commission from contracting with the fire department of any political subdivision for fire protection services rendered to the county. West Virginia state code 7-17-6 addresses county fire board creation and management; membership; terms of members; vacancies and states the county fire association upon two-thirds vote of its membership shall apply to the county commission requesting that the county commission create the county fire board.
Upon receipt of such application the county commission may by majority vote create such a fire board and if so created the county fire board, if authorized, shall be a corporation. The county fire board shall establish the funding priorities for the fire departments forming the fire association and shall present a list of those priorities to the county commission. However, no fire department or representative of a fire department who is a member of the fire board or fire association may apply for county funding from the county commission except as provided for in subsection seven, section ten of this article. The bylaws of the county fire board and standards of operation of the fire association shall be submitted to, and approved by, the state Fire Commission and county commission.
West Virginia state code 8-15-9 as mentioned above in a statement from Carrico says, “Any municipality may provide for, establish, equip and maintain a full-time paid fire department. A paid fire department shall be subject to the authority, control and discipline of the administrative authority. For the purposes of this article, the term “paid fire department’ shall be taken to mean only a municipal fire department maintained and paid for out of public funds and whose employees are paid on a full-time basis out of public funds. The term shall not be taken to mean a department whose employees are paid nominal salaries or wages or are only paid for services actually rendered on an hourly basis.”
Essentially, the concern over legality is questioned due to paid or career firefighters holding membership of the UCFA and/or the UCFB. Currently Buckhannon Fire Department Chief J.B Kimble is an active member of the UCFA while Buckhannon Fire Department Lieutenant Brian Elmore is an active member of the UCFB. Paid members have previously served on both boards and it is just now receiving attention secondary to a statement made by Commissioner Terry Cutright, published by a secondary local media source.
As mentioned earlier, lack of volunteerism has greatly affected fire service and other emergency services. The questions of legality arose following the last UCFA meeting in which it was determined that a committee be developed to address the need for more firemen. That committee was said to consist of two people from the public, two firemen, two people from the business sector, one city council member and one from county commission. At this time, the Upshur County Commission has yet to appoint a member to this committee.
There were many disagreements and questions asked during the meeting. It was noted that Buckhannon City Attorney has met with Chief J.B. Kimble to review the state code regarding the concerns addressed by the Upshur County Commission. At this time there have been six members appointed to the Upshur County Fire Association Committee (UCFAC). Names will be published once a compiled list is made available.
Furthermore, it was noted that the UCFA may attempt to get on the Upshur County Commission agenda for clarification and discussion moving forward. While this was discussed, some members of Buckhannon Fire Department shared support of the UCFA. It was also noted that something has to be done to stop the bleed from lack of volunteerism. Roby then said, “Bleeding control is in steps and I’m going to use this as an example. The first step is to apply pressure with a gloved hand. The second step in gauze with pressure followed by another gauze with pressure. The last step is a tourniquet and guys right now we have a tourniquet on.”
Carrico further elaborated on the subject and discussed how the average age of firefighters locally in Upshur County is around 50 years old. “What are we going to do five years from now when all these guys say they can’t do it anymore?”
It was noted that although volunteers are not paid, they need some kind of recognition and incentive to join, such as something as simple as an annual dinner for them and their families. It was also noted that payment doesn’t always have to be in dollar bills.
Another topic of discussion was that the area is lacking development that would make people want to stay, work, and live in Upshur County. But most of all the sentiment shared by those present was that everyone needs to work together for the betterment of the entire county.
The next meeting is scheduled to be held on Wednesday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Buckhannon Public Safety Complex.